Civil War in Siberia: The End of Kolchak 1919-1920

David Footman assesses the death and legacy of a White Russian leader.

The handing-over and execution of Admiral Kolchak, early in 1920, gave rise to controversy and bitter feelings. Personal, national and political considerations have confused the issue, and some of the evidence has still to be made public. The incident had no decisive influence on world affairs—the White Russian cause in Siberia had been lost before it happened. But human behaviour is an element of history; and for this reason it seems worth while to set together the evidence that so far we possess.

By the spring of 1918 the Bolsheviks had erected a facade of Soviet power in the vast area between the Urals and the Pacific. They had beaten back Ataman Semenov1 into Manchuria. They had suppressed a predominantly Social Revolutionary Siberian Duma. But the local Bolsheviks were too weak to provide more than a facade. The peasants were indifferent. The powerful Co-operatives and the small townsmen were anti-Communist at heart. There was passive resistance. The Social Revolutionaries built up a wide underground network, in touch, in many centres, with clandestine groups of ex-imperial officers who were awaiting an opportunity to revolt. Then came the Czech coup. The Czecho-Slovak Legion,2 some 40,000 strong, were in process of transfer to France via Vladivostock. By May 1918, their detachments were spread along the whole of the Trans-Siberian railway. Relations with the Bolsheviks, always strained, came to breaking point. Following an incident at Cheliabinsk the Czechs attacked, and within a few weeks Soviet rule along the four thousand odd miles from the Volga to the Pacific had ceased to exist. In place of the Bolsheviks emerged a variety of anti-Bolshevik regimes.

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